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The Buffoonish Bourgeois on-view in the renovated Special Exhibitions Gallery
March 5– May 30, 2008
This spring, the exhibition The Buffoonish Bourgeois: Caricatures and Satire of the Upper Middle-Class Businessman in 19th-century France will be on-view in the La Salle University Art Museum’s newly renovated Special Exhibitions Gallery March 5– May 30, 2008.
The Buffoonish Bourgeois offers a selection of journal and book illustrations that poke fun at the middle-class and their mores. Artists represented in the exhibition include Honoré Daumier, Paul Gavarni, J.J. Grandville (Jean-Ignace-Isidore Gérard),Charles Vernier, André Gill, Alfred Jarry, and František Kupka. This exhibition is supported in part by a grant from the International Fine Print Dealers Association. An exhibition catalogue will be available for purchase at the Museum.
In the midst of the Industrial Revolution and changing economic, political, and practical realities, nineteenth-century French illustrators turned their attention to depictions of contemporary mores. Although the artists depict all strata of society, it is often the bourgeois whom they single out for special consideration. Certainly this class was central to changes in nineteenth-century France. They amassed wealth and consolidated political power in the new industries by opening factories and building ships and railroads. They spent their newly earned wealth on consumable goods in the new department stores. They attended the theater and bought art. During the years of the July Monarchy (1830-1848) and the Second Empire (1851-1870), the bourgeois, as a class, reigned supreme.
When censorship of political caricature was reinstated by the July Monarchy in 1835, many artists turned instead to caricature and satire of the bourgeois. Not surprisingly, the culture of the bourgeois was frequently ridiculed in themes that involved earning and spending money. The acquisition of wealth was a defining characteristic of haute bourgeois social status, and artists exploited this trait in satire. In these often good humored illustrations, artists show the buffoonery of the self-characterized staid, morally-upstanding bourgeois.
The more vitriolic images aside, depictions of bourgeois buffoonery were images for the pleasure of the bourgeois reader-consumer. For as easily ridiculed as the bourgeois were for their lack of confidence in matters of style and culture, they also represented a large market for these satirical prints. Baudelaire called upon the bourgeois to patronize art that depicted the contemporary world and this was subject matter that the practical-minded middle-classes could appreciate. The journal and book illustrations were consumed by people who would recognize themselves lampooned and presumably enjoyed and participated in poking fun at themselves and others of their particular class or “type.”
The La Salle University Art Museum is located on the lower level of Olney Hall on the campus of La Salle University at 19th St. and Olney Ave. Hours are 10 AM to 4 PM, Monday through Friday and 2 to 4 PM on Sundays. Admission is free, though donations are accepted. Classes and group visits by appointment. Special tours can be arranged. For further information call 215-951-1221 or visit our website at http://www.lasalle.edu/museum/.